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    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Blog Against Racism Day

    It has been declared. Here are some blogs that do it up right:

    Commeo on "Racism From a Southern Point of View" and "Three Part Harmony: Blogging Against Racism", which deals with the connection for many women between race and beauty, and not in the usual way, and more.

    a cat and twenty and Bumblebee Sweet Potato about their first moments of racial "conspicuousness".

    If I Ran the Zoo on the Bush DOJ.

    Random Ravings points out:

    It is ironic that on Blog Against Racism Day, we also must talk about the 1,000th execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Being that it has been proven over and over again that the death penalty is incredibly biased an unfair to both minorities and the poor, one cannot separate the institutional racism that exists from the institution of capital punishment.

    Nina Turns 40 tackles parenting as a white person in a racist society and the way that racism fucks with everyone's perceptions of the situations in which they find themselves.

    delanybird on the moronic reactions to her interracial relationship:

    Sometimes, I think that being in an interracial marriage has striking similarities to being in a same sex relationship in that people see you with your Significant Other and their brain shuts down and all rational thought goes flying out the window. You don't fit into their "male of a particular race + female of the same race" paradigm and they try to think of any other possible explanation for why you're with that person other than you having a romantic relationship with then.

    At my previous job, I had (as most young married people tend to) one of my wedding photos framed on my desk, along with another framed photo of just my husband. When I say wedding photo, I mean me in a white gown and him in a tux, straight off a wedding-cake topper kind of thing. Over the course of the years I was asked:

    - Who the guy was with me in the wedding pitcure (um, my husband)
    - If he was my adopted brother
    - If it was a picture from a Halloween party
    - If my parents knew if he was asian before I married him (no, I pulled a switcheroo at the wedding, you imbecile)
    - If I was borrowing someone else's office (since why would a white woman have a picture of an asian man in her office?)

    When we had a kid, I had people ask me "how I got her" (answer: "I fucked a Korean", or if I was feeling particularly rude, I would talk to them like they were 4 and say in a sing-songy voice "When a man and a woman love each other and want to make a baby, the man plants a seed inside the woman's womb......"), when she "came home" (as soon as we were discharged from the hospital), where she got her "squinty/small" eyes, and if wasn't I disappointed not to have a kid that looked like me (I think we can all agree that one of me is enough in this world). I even had one woman from another department try to accuse me of cheating on my husband because she thought I was married to a white co-worker ("That baby sure doesn't look ANYTHING like Brad!"), despite the aforementioned wedding pictures on my desk.

    Another time, yet another colleague made racists comments about asians and got offended when I pulled her aside and told her that my husband was asian and that I didn't appreciate her attitude. She said that I should've told her before then that he was asian, as if a) I need to announce it to everyone I meet and b)racism is ok if you keep your nasty comments to people you know share your views (and believe me, I've heard everything.

    You've gotta love Quod She for her contribution, one of the finest I've found:

    When I landed my job in this Rust Belt City in Great Lakes region, a friend of mine in Sprawling Big City, who'd never lived farther inland from the left or right coasts than the inland parts of coastal states, said to me: "Why would you want to move to the all-white midwest when you could stay here?"

    Let me draw your attention to his characterization of the midwest: all white. Partly this is the ignorance of a coaster who considers everything else in between "flyover land," and has less to do with racism than regionalism. But I had a feeling that his ignorance also came from the invisibility, to him, of African-Americans, so I said to him, calling on his taste in music to make him see what should have been obvious:

    "Excuse me? All white? The midwest in general, and especially its industrial cities, like Rust Belt City, has a significant African-American population. Motown? Kansas City jazz? Chicago blues? Does any of this ring a bell?"

    I added that Rust Belt also has a large Arab-American population, although I don't expect many people from outside this area to know that as readily as they should know that it's certainly not all white. (By the way, I know I was partly drawing on stereotypes of blackness -- the black musician, the entertainer -- to illustrate to my friend that the midwest is not all white, but I needed something concrete, iconic, and immediate in its impact to make my friend see what had been invisible to him. And since he's a musician himself, I used music.)

    To my friend's credit, he was ashamed andchagrined once I started naming obvious reasons why he shouldn't think "all-white" when he thinks "midwest." And this friend is not a bad person, nor did he have malicious intentions. In fact, I think it's clear that he feared I was participating in some kind of white flight by taking a job in a place he thought was all white. His intentions were good. But as Chris said later in his original post:

    Intentions are all well and good, but more important are the assumptions from which those intentions spring. Garbage in, garbage out: bad information times good intentions equals bad results. And those results are the most important thing of all.

    The bad results in my friend's case was the invisibility (to him and to many others) of black people as part of the category "midwestern," and, by extention, "American," for what's more conventionally part of the myth of what is "American" than the corn-fed, apple-pie-eating midwesterners? Invisibility can be an ideal goal in the sense of working for the day when, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, people are "judged not by the color of their skin but by the quality of their character." In that sense, the color of someone's skin, their race, is invisible because they are seen first and foremost as human beings. But we haven't reached that day. That world does not yet exist. And as long as real, material inequalities exist for people of color, largely because they are people of color, in a world where the most abject victims of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina are mostly black, and it takes a catastrophe like Katrina to make visible those inequalities, then the invisibility of African-Americans in a comment like my friend's is a destructive and, yes, racist invisibility.

    Eric Stoller tackles "white privilege".

    Frizzy Logic's post on racism in Africa is incredible:

    This was 1980. Apartheid had no visible end. Rhodesia had just become Zimbabwe.

    Swiftly out of Johannesburg to a new work-place. Multi-racial, radical, dangerous as far as the government was concerned. I learnt a lot about racism. As much as a white foreign youngster might, I suppose. There was a lot of ground to cover.

    I learnt to live with benches and entrances, doorways, buses, trains, exits, life, sex, death, thought, soul, all bannered with blankes, for everything was defined by whiteness. Blankes and nie blankes, whites and not-whites.

    The hierarchy of hue. The degrees of degradation. White, asian, coloured, black. But within each the mirrored miniature of the larger structure. It, too, was official. Individuals could be "reclassified" from the edge of one zone to the border of the next and given a card to prove it, based on appearance and the willingness to express disgust about the status as currently defined. A sibling less genetically favoured by the DNA shuffle governing blankeness would be left behind.

    Crossing the border that year to Zimbabwe, was the most extraordinary physical sensation I have ever had. Unaware of how grovelling the spirit becomes under the burden of hatred it was astonishing to feel the snap and bound, the whoosh of unbowing the mere movement over a few meters of earth achieved.

    The country formerly known as Rhodesia had just gained majority rule after nearly 20 years of increasingly bloody civil war to oust the white-run apartheid-like regime.

    Tears ran down my face as I laughed and laughed at the liberation with the delighted immigration officer who shook my hand with both his and laughed too, with his pride in his country.

    My liberation? My peachy white European freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted, holding the passport of her Britannic majesty? To leave South Africa when I chose? Freedom indeed, but not liberation, having been so little constrained.

    Hatred and its spreading venom is very difficult to overcome.

    I went back to the region more than a decade later. Apartheid was ended in South Africa. I revelled in the experience of walking and talking and being with friends old and new in Johannesburg. "No, we can't go that way", one said. "That whole block has been taken over by Zaireans. They're so... primitive. They don't know how to live in proper houses, they just light a fire in the middle of the room."

    She looked at me earnestly. I looked back at this intelligent, gifted, black friend and said nothing. Nothing about how often I'd heard these very same phrases from pink lips, the mouths of the blankes kindly and courteously explaining to the visitor from overseas the necessity of apartheid.

    In Zimbabwe I went one afternoon to the house of a friend and colleague. There was a group of his friends hanging out, talking and drinking. I was sitting next to a man I'd met before, a close friend of my colleague. The talk was of politics and had drifted on to the "if I were president" vein of putting the country to rights. "Well if I were president I know exactly what I'd do", the man next to me said. All attention turned his way. "If I were president I would round up every white person in this country. I would put all the men in prison, and I would fuck all the women." He turned to me. "And I'd start with you."

    There was a pause of half a heart-beat as he smiled at me, delighted with the compliment had just paid. Then the flow of conversation resumed, if indeed it had stopped for anyone else in the room.

    A Typical Joe and Fruitful connect race and AIDS, thereby linking it to World AIDS Day- good work.

    I'm glad for the fact that declaration of a "Blog Against Racism" day is a way to get people to try to have substantive conversations about race and racism in the blogosphere. I see brilliant posts on the topic all the time. Here's my piece, which is a request: when we're given a chance to talk about race and racism, let's not drown ourselves in platitudes and other obliterations of a complex subject. Let's not, for example, talk about "race" when we mean "class". Let's not pretend those terms mean the same thing. Let's not see American racial hegemony as a two-tiered system with white people on the top and Black and Latinos on the bottom and Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Arab-Americans, and immigrants of all colors totally erased. Let's not take one experience and make it analogous to American racial dynamics and power differentials. Let's not look at anyone's writing on race and racism and say, "yeah, that's what it is" and repeat its arguments and anecdotes rather than uncovering the intensity of racial dynamics underlying most every interaction in our daily lives. Let's not assume that people who are racist are racist for "bad reasons" or that people who portend to be anti-racist claim that label for "good reasons", but let's not assume the opposite. Let's not assume that white people who have friends of other races, live in neighborhoods where they are the minority, can carry on conversations about Jean Toomer, Sandra Cisneros, Ha Jin, and Amit Chaudhuri, and use "African-American" are any less fucked-up about race than some white person in an all-white neighborhood with all white friends who reads John Grisham. White people- let's not use this day as a way to brag about how enlightened we are (we do this by sharing an experience where we made some race-oriented mistake and it offered us some kind of epiphany). Let's not pretend that W.E.B. Du Bois and 50 Cent share a common experience, nor Eminem and Thomas Jefferson, etc. We always hear about how "we need to have a conversation about race", but we have them constantly. They're usually just meaningless. Let's make this one better.


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